Archive for October, 2009

Dallas Day Nine

Thursday, October 15th, 2009

Shopping in America can sometimes be a great thing.

I went into a card shop last night. “Hi! Can I help you” the shop assistant said. “I need a birthday card… for twins”. Without a trace of hesitation, she asked “What age are they? A boy and a girl, or 2 boys, or 2 girls?”. She then pointed me straight to the section for twins cards, and pointed out the ones for first birthday and for mixed twins. Now that’s impressive!

Less impressive is the fact that the card won’t arrive on time, but that’s kind of my fault…

Dallas – Day Eight

Tuesday, October 13th, 2009

Okay – I’m sorry about this, but there is no justice.

I raced out of work at 6:30 across to the hotel to grab my dirty clothes, and take them to the cleaners around the corner. The guy in the cleaners asked me if I was enjoying Texas, and we chatted. He asked where I was from, and I said I was from Ireland. He said he had two free tickets for the U2 concert tonight that he couldn’t use, and U2 were from Ireland, and maybe I would like to go and see them. I was lightly stunned. But he insisted I should take them, since he couldn’t use them.

So I raced back to the office to confer with the rest of the guys to see who would use the other ticket. Then Prashant and I raced off to the all-new Cowboys Stadium, and an hour and a half later, the car was parked, and we were going in! The tickets turned out to be completely legit, and we watched U2 for the best part of two hours.

That's Bono way down there on stage and big screen!

That is Little Bono on the tiny stage, and Big Bono on the big screen

It was a good concert. The stadium is vast and amazing, with a lot of clever features like large glass or open areas, instead of walls, so you can see and hear what’s going on when you’re outside the main arena. U2 rocked. They played a lot of newer stuff that I have to admit I don’t know, but also lots of old favourites. And while Bono did his bit to save the world, I have to say it was well done, and I respect him for it. “Walk On” was dedicated to Aung San Suu Kyi, who featured heavily on their magic video wall, and Amnesty International were name-checked. “One” was introduced by a video from Desmond Tutu, who I have a great fondness for. And since it was Texas, George Bush even got a mention, for his investment in Aids work in Africa (which needless to say went down very well with the home crowd).

So wow. What a night. And sorry to all the folks who are bigger U2 fans than me. It was just a bizarre case of being in the right place at the right time. And the guy in the cleaners deserves a great tip!

Dallas – Day Seven

Monday, October 12th, 2009

Today, we visited the Texas State Fair, which is (I think) the second biggest state fair in America. So it’s a big deal.

In some ways, it reminded me of the Oktoberfest in Munich, in that it is a local funfair for local people, unlike Disneyland which is very glossy, and pretty much geared towards tourists. And the fair had something for everyone – there was a car show with some nice shiny toys to drool over, lots of home improvement stalls for people who like that sort of thing, crazy rides and games, animals, and a lot of food.

The thing that surprised me most was the amount of frying going on – fried butter, fried peaches and cream, fried cheesecake, fried pecan pie, and even good old fried snickers. Now I don’t object to any of those things, having enjoyed a battered Mars bar or two myself, but I was surprised at the sheer variety and enthusiasm of the frying going on.

They like their frying!

They like their frying!

I’ll also add at this point that I didn’t indulge too badly – I had a corn on the cob, some fried pork chips (nominated for a taste award), and a funnel cake (a local delicacy it seems – very nice – quite doughnut-ish).

The wierdest point of the Fair was without doubt the “Dancing with the Dogs” show, a demonstration of “the fastest growing sport in America – canine freestyling”. Yes, that was a real quote – she did say sport. No, I am not making this up! Look!

We only stayed for a couple of the performers. The dogs were completely cool, but I couldn’t deal with their dancing partners. I was also a bit disappointed that we’d missed the pig racing (yes, really). But the chance to sit down for a few minutes was great.

And there were some real cowboys at the fair too, wearing their cowboy hats in a completely non-ironic way.

Unfortunately, just as we were deciding to leave, it started to rain heavily. A coat and umbrella from my rucksack sorted us out, so we were okay, but there were a lot of very wet people out there, and it was a bit horrible for a while.

But I really enjoyed the fair. It was an unmissable slice of American (perhaps Texan) life, and I’m gad the hotel receptionist recommended it.

Pushing Ice

Sunday, October 11th, 2009

I bought two books to take with me to Dallas. The first I read was Pushing Ice by Alastair Reynolds. I read his House of Suns in Lanzarote last month, and really enjoyed it. I think I enjoyed this one even more.

The story begins with Janus, one of the moons of Saturn, unexpectedly breaking orbit, and heading off to a distant star system. The Rockhopper, an asteroid mining ship is the only vessel in position to follow it. The book then follows the story of its crew as they follow this alien object to its destination. The characters were interesting and engaging, and the plot varied and imaginative. But what really impressed me was that every time I thought I knew where the book was going, it would do something unexpected. I liked that. I also liked that the cover of the book was relevant to the story, which seems to be not often the case these days in sci-fi.

So some solid sci-fi, that’s an enjoyable read, and hard to put down.

Dallas – Days Five and Six

Sunday, October 11th, 2009

The evening of day 5 was spent in the hotel – after a really good lunch at a Mexican restaurant (On the Border), I couldn’t face food for the rest of the day. But I did catch some of the new Stargate Universe. I couldn’t say it set my world on fire, but it is only new, and I missed the big first episode, so it was unlikely to.

On Saturday morning (day 6), I headed out to do some shopping. I mainly wanted a bottle of root beer for the hotel fridge, and some warmer clothes, since the weather is getting colder in Dallas. Colder than I was really prepared for. So off I headed to Walmart. Mission was eventually accomplished after unsuccessful visits to TJ Max (my sister would be proud of me), Ross’s and Target. I liked Target.

I then met up with some more guys from work who are also staying here for a few weeks (hence the “we” for a while), and we headed into Dallas. We had some disagreements with the Sat Nav Lady, who kept telling us about turnoffs either too early or too late. It took most of the day for us to come to an understanding and a position of mutual respect. Suffice it to say that our journeys into Dallas and back out again were non-optimal, but we’re on speaking terms again now.

Anyway, we really only visited the historical section of the city, since without guide books that was the only area we had a handle on. This is dominated by the JFK assassination. I have to say, I was surprised that the former Texas Book Depository houses the JFK museum, and you can look out through the window that the bullet (allegedly) came from. The comedy highlight of the trip was definitely the sign on the door:

Since it was bringing firearms into the building that caused the problem in the first place, it seems a bit late to have rules about it now…

We also noted the difference between the cost of things. The JFK Museum costs $13.50, and their car park is a further $5. They do not permit any photography once inside. That seems expensive, and fairly ungracious to not allow photos. Conversely, the nearby Reunion Tower offers great views over the city, and costs nothing to enter except the cost of food or drink in the restaurant. One coke was $5, we stayed for a full revolution of the restaurant (which took an hour) and we took lots of pictures. That seems like great value. Interesting comparison.

The plan for today (day 7), is to go to the Texas State Fair. I’ll let y’all know how we get on.

Dallas – Days Three and Four

Friday, October 9th, 2009

Yesterday I worked out that maybe it hasn’t been raining every night when I noticed a sprinkler going. But it definitely rained heavily last night, since it woke me up. But also today there was finally a little sunshine at lunchtime, the first I’ve seen.

Finishing work a bit earlier, I managed to get to the hotel gym last night. Small panic when the cycling machine told me my heart rate was 190, which is a just a bit high. Fortunately, the next machine reckoned it was 90, which is a little low given I’d been cycling for 10 minutes. But the average was probably about right. Made it back to the gym tonight.

Today I got hold of a hire car, and have managed to successfully drive it back from the airport, and out and about for tea. It’s a Kia Optima, which does not fire my imagination, but it works fine, and it does have Sirius XM and an Ipod connector. Sirius is pretty cool – lots and lots of radio stations to choose from, including Radio 1 and the BBC world service. As long as I stay away from the 50 country stations and Radio 1, I should be fine 😉

Dallas – Day Two

Wednesday, October 7th, 2009

I’m clearly not from round here – I caught a couple of people staring in my direction on my way back from the office this evening. It could be because I was walking (which is obviously unusual for the US) or it could be because I was wearing a coat. Wearing a coat seemed perfectly sensible to me, since the weather forecast predicted thunderstorms, and according to Fleetwood Mac “thunder only happens when it’s raining”. But I was nonetheless the only person I saw all day with a coat.

Maybe it’s related to the not walking much thing…

Dallas – Day One

Tuesday, October 6th, 2009

So, 17 hours after arriving at Belfast City Airport, I arrived safely at my hotel in Dallas. And I’ve managed to survive my first day in the states.

The office is just across the road from the hotel, which is very civilized as I can walk to work. I spent most of the day in a meeting with my new team, which could have been in any office building, so I kind of forget where I was until we left for the evening, when it once again became obvious I wasn’t at home any more – the cars and buildings were all wrong for Belfast.
And rather splendidly the guvnor here took a couple of us out for tea, so I had a chance to see a little of the local area, and enjoy a nice Mexican meal.